Leviticus on Diet and Exercise (Leviticus 11)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Leviticus 11:1–11:47
Leviticus on Diet and Exercise
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
January 14th, 2018
I. Blue Shirt, Orange Shirt
William and his young family were refugees. The new country in which they lived was far better than their war torn country of origin, but it was still a hard place to live. The people there prided themselves in being arrogant and harshly rigid. But William and his family had few options. They decided to make the best of it as strangers in a strange place.
When William's oldest son was ready to begin school, he was thrilled the young boy was going to receive an education. But he soon recognized how social pressures inside and outside the school helped to shape each child according to that arrogant and rigid mold. Civic pride in this kind of outlook was symbolized by the color blue. It was the color of the nation's flag, and almost every child wore a blue shirt to school, even though it was not a requirement.
To counter these influences, William, before he put his son on the school bus, would say, “I love you, son. Be humble. Be gracious. Be brave.” Every school day, he would tell the little boy the same thing: “I love you, son. Be humble. Be gracious. Be brave.” But he also did something else. Every school day, he would make sure his son was wearing an orange shirt.
This morning we are once again returning to the strange, but spectacular book of Leviticus. Look with me, if you would, at Leviticus chapter 11.
II. The Passage: "It is Unclean to You" (11:1-47)
For those who were here, think for a minute about what God taught us last time. As we surveyed the four kinds of fire revealed in chapters 9 and 10, we walked away with a very practical reminder: our faith should be a careful faith. And to be careful is to be completely sober and serious when it comes to God's word, for He is a holy God and what he's revealed to us makes all the difference in terms of what is true and false, what is righteous and what is wicked, and about life and death.
In the aftermath of Nadab and Abihu's sin and judgment, in that time of shock and grief for their father, you may remember how God instructed Aaron, his high priest. Leviticus 10:10, 11:
“You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean,  and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses.”
So what we see over the next five chapters (11-15) is precisely this: specific teachings on what is “holy” and “clean”, and in contrast, what is “common” and “unclean”. And that teaching begins here in chapter 11 with clean and unclean animals.
We are not going to read about every animal listed here. I'd certainly encourage you to do that today or this week. What we'll do instead is look at three aspects of this chapter: first, we'll talk in general terms about the animals that are listed here; second, we will talk about some of the scenarios this chapter describes in terms of 'dos and don'ts'; and finally, third, we'll look at some of the remedies provided if there is a violation in regard to these animals.
Remember, our goal is to understand what the writer was saying to that first audience back then. That's critical if we are to ever understand what God is saying to us today.
1. Listing of Clean/Unclean Animals (vs. 2-44)
So look with me at the first three verses of chapter 11:
And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them,  “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.  Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.
So for the most part, the rest of the chapter is concerned with that same issue: what animals the Israelites may eat. These are classified as clean animals. And as we just read, cloven-hoofed animals that chew the cud are considered clean. Now, clean animals of that kind are not actually listed here, only clarifications about which animals do not qualify (the most famous of course being listed in verse 7...the pig!). But a very similar list in Deuteronomy 14 provides the clean animals in this category:
These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat,  the deer, the gazelle, the roebuck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep. (Deut. 14:4, 5)
Now if you drop down to the end of the chapter, and look at those closing verses, you can get a sense of what is covered in this chapter, and why. Verses 46 and 47...
This is the law about beast and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms on the ground,  to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
So we see groups that are very similar to the categories of Genesis 1: birds, water animals, and land animals divided between beasts of the field and creeping or swarming things (according to vs. 29, 30, that would be things like mice and lizards).
Now the big question is this: why are some animals labeled clean, and some unclean. Well, there have been a lot of different explanations over the centuries. But I think the one that best utilizes all the material here is the idea that for each category or sphere (sky, water, and land), there is a standard in terms of features and type of movement (like in verse 9, sea animals with fins and scales). Thus, the creatures that deviate from the norms are considered 'unclean'. So in verses 20-23, insects that have wings to fly, but walk on all fours, are unclean. And of course, birds like those listed in vs. 13-19 are all predators who eat animals, including blood; so since blood is not to be consumed (cf. 3:17), these birds are unclean.
So overall, as one commentator puts it, through these food regulations, “Israel was reminded that its life was to conform the norms of God's world in a moral and spiritual sense as well as physically, and that God had chosen them to be a holy nation.” (Wenham)
2. Scenarios with Clean/Unclean Animals (vs. 8, 24-28, 31-40)
But in addition to not eating these animals, this chapter also mentions some other scenarios I which a person could become unclean. For example, early in the chapter, in verse 8, we learn that even touching the carcass, that is, even touching a dead animal, one that was 'unclean', would defile a person. And that prohibition is repeated a number of times in verses 24-28 and 31-40. Interestingly, even a 'clean' animal, if it dies naturally, was not to be touched. It too would defile a person under these holiness laws.
In addition to touching or carrying an unclean animal's carcass, the Israelites also had to be aware of an animal's carcass touching their pots and pans and water and food. If a dead mouse were to fall into your Aunt Naomi's clay food pot, guess what? Yep, it's ruined..for good. So again, there is a deviation from the norm, this time in regard to life. That which is dead is unclean.
3. Remedies for Clean/Unclean Animals (vs. 25, 28, 32, 33, 35, 40)
So what was an Israelite to do if he or she violated one of these laws? Well, at least six verses tell us about the remedies if one were to become defiled by one of these unclean animals. Interestingly, compared to the sacrificial remedies for sin described in the first seven chapters, these remedies are fairly simple.
For example, from verse 25 down to verse 40, you will find three different remedies: the first and always applicable remedy was simply to wait until the sun went down. After that, you were clean. The second, if applicable was to wash your clothes or wash your wooden food chest or wash your potato sack. The third was the most severe. If a clay pot or food or wet seed was defiled, it had to be smashed or thrown out. So there they are: 1) wait, 2) wash, or 3) to the waste pile.
Now there's a lot of information in this chapter, but I think those three points (i.e. the listing of, scenarios with, and remedies for clean/unclean animals) can help us understand the basic pieces of what's included. So the question were left with at the end of chapter 11 has to be “so what”. Why does this matter? Two big New Year's resolutions: diet and exercise. But what is this chapter's message about diet teaching you about the exercising your faith today? Yes, it's strange. But is it really spectacular...for us?
III. How are You Different? (Acts 10:9-28)
But this is precisely where the NT is so helpful in helping us see the bigger picture. Turn if you would to Acts 10. As you turn there, let me remind you that Acts 10 takes place in the first years of the church, after the resurrection of Jesus. The Apostle Peter has been brought to Joppa, and is staying with a man named Simon.
What Peter does not know is that a Roman centurion named Cornelius, living in about 35 miles up the coast in Caesarea, has been visited by an angel and instructed to call for Peter. So Cornelius (again, a Gentile), sends two of his servants and one of his soldiers to fetch Peter. And we'll pick up in verse 9. Not listen for the connection to Leviticus 11. Verse 9...
The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray.  And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance  and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth.  In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.  And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”  But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”  This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.  Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate  and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there.  And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.  Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.”  And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your coming?”  And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.”  So he invited them in to be his guests. The next day he rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him.  And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.  When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him.  But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”  And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered.  And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.
Did you hear that? The connection to Leviticus is obvious, right? The vision showed a great sheet with all kinds of animals, animals that were clearly classified as “unclean” in Leviticus 11. That's why Peter, an observant Jew says “No way!” to God's instruction to “kill and eat” (Peter probably thought it was some kind of test). But look again at God's explanation in verse 15: “What God has made clean, do not call common.”
A change had occurred. God decided to change the revise the categories. Now, no animal was unclean. This fact is confirmed by many, many verses in the NT. And this change confirms that what some people still believe is certainly wrong: that somehow, the Levitical regulations about food were given for health and hygiene reasons. If they were, would God really change things? Did He stop caring about our health?
No, after a night thinking carefully about the heavenly vision and the centurion's invitation, Peter understood the implication. This change in the way Peter was to think about food pointed to a bigger change in the way Peter was to think about people (i.e. the Gentiles). You see, Peter understood that these food laws were designed for one reason: to help Israel see themselves as 'set apart'; a people distinct from their idol-worshiping neighbors.
This and so many of Leviticus's holiness laws were like that orange shirt in the opening illustration. William knew that an orange shirt had no power to make his son different. But it could set him apart. As hard as it was to stand out from the crowd, William's son would learn an important lesson about being different. And through that experience, his son might have a better chance of understanding what it means to be different in ways that matter most.
Israel was God's son. They were spiritually immature as His people. And so, they were given rules concerning things like food and clothing and tattoos and leprosy and dead bodies and sowing seed, all to prepare them for life as a distinct, as a different people.
But the maturing of God's people came with Jesus and the new covenant ratified by his blood. Remember, it was Jesus who (in Mark 7:14–23) said this after his disciples were condemned by the Pharisees for not eating with ritually pure hands...
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand:  There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”  And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable.  And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him,  since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” [this is Mark's comment](Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
So the list of Leviticus, its details about purity, point us forward to this list of Jesus. You see, what defiled back then was meant to teach us about what truly defiles; and by God's grace, to teach us how to live separate lives when it comes that which defiles the heart.
Today, as in times past, there is a powerful pull from the world, and a deep desire within us, to be accepted, even adores by the world. And even the word different has been used to this end. It's cool to be different, right? We say, “look at my hair; look at my clothes; look what I can do”. But so often, our desire to be different is not to be set apart, but to stand out and rise above.
What I'm saying is this: God does not want us to be different as an end in itself, or for our own glory. That's not truly being different. That's simply conforming to the rebellious, misguided, me-centered, and ultimately deadly, way of the world. This is why the Apostle Peter encourages his readers by quoting from Leviticus 11 in his first letter:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:14–16)
So what can we do? First, we can find true cleansing for our hearts at the cross of Christ. Come to him today and admit that your heart is corrupt, and that therefore, you've lived a conformed and compromised life. His forgiveness is real and always available. His grace is deep and lasting.
Second, pray today and ask God to help you live each day for an audience of one; that you would live first and foremost to please Him; that you would be willing to take up your cross each day and walk a very different path, different from what your sinful desires and the world around dictate. Read, meditate on, and pray according to His word. Surround yourself with people who will help you not only learn the Bible, but live out the Bible.
So in conclusion, we might ask, “Is there still some connection for God's people today when it comes to rules about food?” Actually, yes there is. Paul made this clear in I Corinthians 10:31. He told followers of Jesus...So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
And we do that by being set apart on the inside, by acting in Christlike love toward those around us, and honoring God above, above everything else.
More in Living Leviticus
April 15, 2018Spirituality Before Sexuality (Leviticus 18:1-30)
April 8, 2018When and When Not to Drink Blood (Leviticus 17:1-16)
January 28, 2018Your Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)